Never underestimate the power of the precocious teenager at the Olympic Games.
Russia's tiny 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya captured the world's attention in two minutes and 50 seconds on Saturday, laying down a mesmerizing short program in the team figure skating competition. She also finished first in the free skate on Sunday and received a personal congratulations from President Vladimir Putin following Russia's gold-medal win.
With a skating-teacher mother who was born and raised in Russia, 15-year-old Polina Edmunds of the United States would like nothing more than to make a similar statement when she takes to the ice for the ladies' singles competition starting on Feb. 19.
Edmunds may have upset the plans of the U.S. Olympic selection committee when she skated to a silver medal with an air of confidence that belied her tender years.
Three spots were available for American skaters. It was assumed they'd go to 2013 World Championship competitors Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold along with Mirai Nagasu, who'd finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics.
Ashley stumbled, Polina glided into the silver-medal position, and all heck broke loose, as they'd say in the skating world.
The demure teenager Edmunds had skated like she belonged among the Olympians—immediately. In the post-event press conference, she spoke like it, too:
"It's always been my dream to go to the Olympics in 2014 because my mom's family lives in Russia," she campaigned, knowing the Olympic roster had yet to be determined (per the Contra Costa Times).
She also reminded reporters that it was another 15-year-old, Tara Lipinski, who had outskated favorite Michelle Kwan for the gold medal in 1998 in Nagano.
The Olympics does have an age cut-off to prevent athletes it deems to be too young from competing. Edmunds qualified by a month and a half.
After her teammates Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold impressed in the team figure skating event, Edmunds will have a chance to show why she belongs on the world stage at the singles competition.
2006 world champion Kimmie Meissner captures the carefree exuberance of a young athlete in a statement to Jere Longman of The New York Times:
When you’re younger, you just love to skate and jump and it doesn't hurt your body...It’s a light, freeing experience. You’re in a big arena with a full audience. You’re with the people you've seen on television and you say, "I'm right up there with them. I have nothing to lose."
As the U.S. national junior champion in 2013, this year's nationals were Edmunds' first-ever senior-level competition. She's the first female U.S. skater in 50 years to jump from junior champion to Olympian in just one year. She'll make her senior international debut on the Olympic ice at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
In contrast to her Zen approach, Edmunds packs a punch with her leaps and jumps. She turned judges' heads at nationals with the most technically demanding program of the competition, executing difficult combinations with seemingly effortless ease.
Edmunds is still growing into her gangly frame, but she has a coltish grace to her skating that's built on years of dance training, especially a strong foundation of ballet.
For decades, Americans expected to see their athletes among the world's best female figure skaters at the Olympics. In Vancouver, the streak was broken when the U.S. women's team failed to medal; Nagasu finished fourth.
As the latest hopefuls, Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner skated well in the team event, sweeping away some of the clouds surrounding the program. But Russia's Lipnitskaya has already announced that she's here to play.
On Feb. 19, Polina Edmunds will have her chance to show that American teenagers can turn heads, too.
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